In a followup to an earlier article, Apple has successfully sued Samsung for $1.05 Billion in a patent infringement lawsuit. Apple threw the book at Samsung, claiming a sole patent on things like a cell phone being rectangular with rounded corners, size/shape of icons, etc.
From the NY Times
The image shows the two different phones. Samsung, on the left, is bigger, darker and just fundamentally different than the iPhone on the right. Do they have similarities? Absolutely. But there are similarities between any two things that essentially perform the same the same functions (ie, talk, text, surf, etc).
What gets me is that Samsung just bought, used and observed the iPhone. I could understand if Samsung stole code or images, but all that happened is that Samsung was inspired by the iPhone. If Apple was more secure about its creative superiority, then they wouldn’t need to waste time in the courtroom, they’d just work on the next great iPhone.
However, that didn’t happen, and us consumers will pay for it. The NY Times reports:
The case underscores how dysfunctional the patent system has become. Patent litigation has followed every industrial innovation, whether it is steam engines, cars or, now, phones. And it is the courts, rather than the patent office, that are being used to push companies toward a truce.
In the end, consumers may be the losers. The substantial legal fees may be passed on in higher prices, analysts say, and litigation can deter entrepreneurs from entering the industry, so there is less competition.
“It is hard not to see all the patent buying and patent lawsuits as a distortion of the role of patents,” said Josh Lerner, an economist and patent expert at Harvard Business School. “They are supposed to be an incentive for innovation.”
By one estimate, as many as 250,000 patents can be used to claim ownership of some technical or design element in a smartphone. Each patent is potentially a license to sue.
Samsung says it will challenge the jury’s decision, which covered design basics like the shape of the iPhone itself and its array of small on-screen icons. So the courtroom conflict could continue for years, and even then, the case is but one of dozens of lawsuits and countersuits in 10 countries between Apple and Samsung, the world’s two leading smartphone makers.
I personally feel this is unfortunate in the history of programming. If we’re not able to be inspired by products in our field without fear of legal retaliation, growth in our field would stymied. Learning what works and building upon that is the cornerstone of innovation.
Lawsuits have their place in our industry – fight monopolistic practices, protect code, protect consumers. But slowing down innovation during such an exciting time is awful!